Portillo backs US in terror war

Iran is suspected over attacks on bases.
Click to follow
Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, yesterday signalled that Britain would support US strikes against terrorist training camps in the Middle East if there is clear evidence they are linked to recent terrorist attacks on American bases.

There was growing speculation in Washington that Iran sponsored the terrorists who were responsible for the bombing of the US base in Saudi Arabia. And there was further evidence that TWA Flight 800 was brought down by a bomb.

William Perry, the US Defense Secretary, said "a flood of intelligence" suggested another attack on US forces in Saudi Arabia was imminent.

"We are preparing for a terrorist attack," he said. "We see our military forces under terrorist threat."

British bases in the Middle East have been put on alert and security has been stepped up. Mr Perry, who briefed Mr Portillo on Friday, during a stop-over from Saudi Arabia, played down speculation of an early US attack in the Middle East, but there were weekend reports that the CIA has identified 11 terrorist training camps in Iran, which sent the bombers that attacked American military targets in Saudi Arabia last November and in June.

As part of the flight deck of TWA Flight 800 was recovered, it was also reported that pieces of china had been found embedded in the roof of the first-class cabin, raising speculation that a bomb could have exploded in the galley or in panelling in the lavatory.

Mr Portillo underlined on GMTV the seriousness of the threat he believes the West is facing.

"This has to be a global struggle in which the allies stand shoulder- to-shoulder determined to beat terrorism," Mr Portillo said. "We need to show the presence of the West defending Kuwait, defending Saudi Arabia, determined to resist aggression ... these terrorists, whoever they are, are trying to drive out the Western powers and make that region insecure, cut off oil to the West, unleash extremism of one sort or another, therefore we need to be extremely robust."

He said Mr Perry had "voiced a suspicion that this isn't just a domestic Saudi group that's involved. There may be connections elsewhere. Now we also insist on clear evidence of that."

Mr Perry, who returned last week from Saudi Arabia, said Saudi and FBI investigators working jointly to determine who planted the bomb had not yet found any solid leads. "I learned nothing new about who was responsible for the bombing," he said.

But he did reiterate his belief that either a foreign government or forces working outside Saudi Arabia had collaborated in the bombing.

"Because of the complex nature of the attack I believe that in and of itself provides evidence of outside support," he said. "It was a military detonator and a military explosive."

Mr Perry also noted that "Iran and Iraq are two countries that have regularly stated that they do not want our forces" in Saudi Arabia.

But Britain has warned the US against a commando raid to snatch Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader wanted for war crimes. The US was reported to be drawing up plans for a strike by airborne special forces against Mr Karadzic at his base in Pale.

But Mr Portillo cautioned against such a move, saying British, French and American lives might be sacrificed in this kind of kidnapping raid.

"Remember, this is not a free option. If Karadzic were to be snatched, my judgement is we would put at risk, we might sacrifice, American, British, French lives.

"The question that I am responsible for asking is how many British lives that is worth."

Mostar dilemma, page 8